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Are the Child Support Guidelines Increasing Conflict?

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Apr 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

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Handle the parenting portion of your divorce correctly and your kids will benefit greatly.

Why do some divorcing parents handle the issues surrounding parenting in a respectful and thoughtful manner, while others adopt mean-spirited and inflexible positions?   As a Norfolk County Divorce Lawyer and Divorce Mediator, I have seen both extremes, but there is no simple answer to the question.

High conflict over parenting during and after divorce is like a disease.  Poisonous parenting may infect just one individual initially but is highly contagious.  Some “treatment options” may work, but in other cases, the poison may have  a strong hold and not respond.

Some parents use their kids in an attempt to exert control over their spouse, try to better their own position when it comes to child support, or perhaps just act like a jerk.  Sadly, some parents will adopt positions that are not in the children's best interests.   Are these parents just unreasonable?  Are they getting bad advice from their lawyers, friends, or relatives?

Although more and more households contain two working parents, when it comes to divorce some people suddenly revert to the 1950s and adopt antiquated notions of parenting without any regard for the family's schedule or the needs of the children.  Fathers, even those very involved with their kids, may have to overcome the assumption that every other weekend is a reasonable amount of parenting time. In other cases, one parent may insist on an amount of parenting time that is unrealistic based upon his or her work schedule, then just drop off the children with friends or family members frequently.   I suppose that these actions provide job security for divorce lawyers and mediators.

 The 2013 MA Child Support Guidelines – Promoting Percentages

The most recent version of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (from 2013) allows for variations in child support based upon the amount of parenting time done by each parent.   Traditionally, the child support guidelines assumed the parent receiving the child support had the children for two-thirds of the time.   For families sharing parenting responsibilities equally, the child support guidelines are calculated twice, with each parent as the payor.  The difference between the two amounts is the presumed amount of support.  The 2013 child support guidelines added another scenario – when the payor parent is responsible for between 1/3 and ½ of the parenting.

Unfortunately, some parents are adopting positions on the amount of parenting time they are seeking not upon what is best for their children, but based upon numbers entered into the child support guidelines.  This unintended consequence of the Massachusetts child support guidelines is not a good thing.  Parents should avoid letting the child support guidelines dictate parenting schedules. Whenever parents start counting hours and or the number of overnight stays it is a slippery slope, and again the kids are the ones that suffer.

 Norfolk County Divorce Lawyer – Parenting Plan Considerations

So, what are some issues should you think about when considering a parenting plan and schedule? (Modern family law practitioners and family mental health professionals alike generally disfavor the “c” and “v” words – custody and visitation, as you may have noticed).

  1. Child's age, maturity, and temperament;
  2. Special needs of a child or a parent;
  3. Distance between the parents homes;
  4.  Parent's work schedules, including flexibility;
  5. Transportation issues;
  6. Children's schedules, including school and activities;
  7. Child care requirements;
  8. Parent's willingness to communicate and cooperate;
  9. Child's need to spend time with friends;
  10. Helping with schoolwork and homework;
  11. Child's religious upbringing (may not be an issue);
  12. Ability for each parent to support the other as a co-parent.

As a Norfolk County divorce lawyer and divorce mediator, I have worked with families that do a fantastic job navigating their divorce and working together respectfully as co-parents.  Oftentimes, these parents are using the divorce mediation process to facilitate reaching a fair agreement for both in a less-adversarial atmosphere. Other times, I have witnessed positions and demands made by parents or their lawyers clearly meant to inflict damage.  Of course, the kids are either the winners or losers, but it is not a game.  The stress on children when exposed to a high-conflict divorce is damaging and can last a lifetime, so try to do the right thing for the right reasons. You will be glad you did.

If you want to read more about parenting and divorce, one of my favorite books is Mom's House, Dad's House, by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.

Stephen McDonough is a Norfolk County divorce mediator and divorce lawyer, and owner of Next Phase Legal LLC in Medfield, MA.   Stephen helps clients through complex divorce and family law matters in the areas of Walpole, Norwood, Canton, Dedham, Medfield, Millis, Medway, Natick, Dover, Sherborn, Westwood, and beyond.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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